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An unexpected alliance


Art and energy unite in Imperial Art to celebrate Canada’s 150

Canadian art and Canadian oil–two distinct components of our nation’s heritage–come together through Imperial Oil’s “Imperial Art” initiative. In honour of Canada’s 150th year, Imperial Oil has donated $6 million in artwork to galleries across the nation.

Imperial Oil, an integrated energy company, has been in existence almost as long as Canada has been a country. Founded in 1880, the company takes pride in embodying the pioneering Canadian spirit in all of its work.

According to the company history, Imperial Oil began collecting art approximately 70 years ago to “support Canadian artists, contribute to Canadian culture, enhance the work environment for employees and provide public awareness of the visual arts.”

A recent move to new open-concept offices diminished the amount of display area available, requiring Imperial Oil to downsize its current collection. Imperial decided the best possible solution was sharing their carefully acquired collection with Canadians across the country.

At present, their donations total 43 pieces to 15 galleries across the country, including the National Gallery of Canada, the Glenbow and the Art Gallery of Alberta. Works were intentionally given to complement each gallery's existing collection.

In particular, the AGA received 4 pieces from the Imperial Art initiative,:

  • Nicholas de Grandmaison, Study of a Cree Indian, no date
  • Douglas Haynes, Gold Rush, 1987
  • E.H. MacDonald, Leafless Bush, Mongoose Lake, no date
  • Wilf Perreault, Behind Silverman’s, 1983

Each of these works is significant to both the history of Canada and the context of the AGA collection.

Curious about our new additions? Learn a bit more about some of the works acquired through the Imperial Art initiative below:

Study of a Cree Indian

Nicholas De Grandmaison’s painting Study of a Cree Indian speaks to Canadian history in two ways. De Grandmaison immigrated to Canada from Russia in the 1920s. When he arrived, he felt particularly drawn to Canada's Indigenous peoples and travelled throughout Canada to create portraits of individuals from various indigenous nations and tribes. Currently the AGA has 8 other De Grandmaison paintings of Indigenous peoples.

This painting depicts an Indigenous subject during a particular historical moment. Simultaneously, the portrait can be considered to be a highly romanticized portrayal of a culture, and more indicative of a colonizer's perspective of the colonized. While this particular painting isn`t currently featured in an AGA exhibition, similar works that both celebrate and challenge questions of identity–can be seen at Past Imperfect: A Canadian History Project, which is currently showing at the AGA.

Leafless Bush, Mongoose Lake,

J.E.H. MacDonald was a founding member of the Group of Seven, a collective of Canadian painters that started the first Canadian art movement often treating landscape as the primary subject of their works. In particular, Leafless Bush, Mongoose Lake embodies how Canada's landscape has been represented as a force that shapes the national experience–tough but beautiful. The AGA holds 8 other paintings from MacDonald in its permanent collection.

Gold Rush

Closest to home is the work by Douglas Haynes. Born in Regina, Haynes was considered one of Edmonton's most prominent abstract artists and teachers, with exhibitions in both national and international venues. Haynes began teaching at the University of Alberta in 1970 and lived in Edmonton until his death in 2016. The Art Gallery of Alberta owns 38 of his other works., and another 2 major paintings are hung in positions of honour in Edmonton City Hall.


Every piece donated to the AGA finds a place within the AGA collection and will be an invaluable asset as we preserve and share these works with future audiences.

This initiative from Imperial Oil shows how organizations both inside and outside the cultural sector can work together to bring Canada's rich and varied heritage to audiences across the country.

You can find listings of Haynes’ Gold Rush and Perreault’s Behind Silverman’s, as well as numerous other recent AGA acquisitions and stories in the AGA's Report to the Community 2016. See which other pieces were given to galleries around the country by consulting Imperial Oil’s community investments.


Imperial Oil Company Overview

The ‘art’ of Imperial’s community investment

Edmonton Journal, Feb. 2016, Groundbreaking artist Douglas Haynes left huge mark in Edmonton

OSNI Nicholas de Grandmaison

OSNI J.E.H. MacDonald

Info from database (sent by Danielle)

July 07, 2017


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